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September 10, 2011

Defense shines in rout

MADISON - During his Thursday night meeting with a handful of reporters, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made it clear that he wanted his team to show the most improvement from week one to two of any team in college football.

Considering that motivational technique was aimed particularly at his defense, it's fair to say the message was well received.

Sophomore middle linebacker Chris Borland played much better, the defense overcame three prominent injuries, Marcus Cromartie played his best game as a Badger and the Wisconsin defense completely shut down an Oregon State team that fancies itself as a team that likes to score points.

The end result, you ask. How does a resounding 35-0 beat down sound?

"Last week versus UNLV we let the ball out of the gate on leverage plays alone," UW junior defensive end David Gilbert said. "They're not going to run the ball up the middle against us. That's the biggest thing because we play against that kind of power offense every day. It was just cleaning up the detail of leveraging the ball and keeping it inside.

"I'm glad we got that on film and we're going to work to keep it on film."

Tackling was the main issue for the Badgers a week ago against a UNLV team that is about as good on the football field as a batch of rotten eggs is for breakfast. Most of the Runnin' Rebels yardage came from runs outside the tackles and a lot of times runs that were sprung by a missed Badger tackle.

That was clearly not the case Saturday afternoon against an Oregon State team that rushed for 266 yards a week ago. Case and point, this time the Beavers only accumulated 23 total yards on the ground.

"I think we kind of took that mentality and said they put it on tape, why can't we," UW senior safety Aaron Henry said. "We just went out there and we knew what we were up against. It's never about the opponent here at Wisconsin.

"It's always about us."

Borland, playing in just his second ever game at the middle linebacker position, tied his linebacker comrade with nine tackles Saturday afternoon. Those two players, arguably one of the top linebacker duos in all of the Big Ten, set the tone for a defense that held Oregon State to around 100 total yards through two and a half quarters of play.

"I think the first game you're excited and everything," Borland said. "I felt better. It's not like I made a giant stride (today), but I felt better. Sometimes it can be counterproductive to be going 100 percent because you've got to slow play some reads and not bite at the bait. I'm continuing to improve with that but I think I'm doing a pretty good job of that right now."

Apparently Borland's comfort, combined with Taylor's knack for seeking out the ball carrier, translates to a more aggressive mindset against the run. Oregon State never saw a rush go for more than seven yards throughout the entirety of the game.

"It's always our number one goal as a defense," Borland said in regards to stopping the run. "I think a lot of defenses are like that, but our number one goal is to stop the run no matter who we're playing. When you take away a team's run game you make them truly one-dimensional and it really opens up what you can do."

Then, when you factor in the aggressive nature the corners played with - - UW logged six pass breakups in the first quarter alone - - the recipe for a shutout is well on its way. Apparently that was cooked to perfection.

"Six PBU's means our hands are on the ball a lot," Henry said. "We talked about turnovers so if we can start turning some of those PBU's or tipped balls - - no matter what it is - - into interceptions I think it will only make the defense that much better. You guys are seeing those PBU's now, but eventually those are going to start turning into interceptions.

"I'm really excited for this unit."

If one play was more encouraging than most of the others, you can immediately turn your attention to the way the UW secondary, namely Henry, read what was going on during a fourth and one play late in the third quarter.

Already down 28-0 and with no offensive rhythm, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley had no other choice but to go for it on fourth and two. Having faked the tailback dive only to pitch it out wide, it seemed as though the only thing between a Beaver first down was Henry.

The senior stormed into the play, slowed Brandin Cooks down and eventually witnessed Shelton Johnson drop the runner for a loss of one yard. UW collected the ball after the turnover on downs.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out," UW head coach Bret Bielema noted. "If you know what you're doing you play faster. Today they were just very confident with what their calls were, their alignments and their reactions."


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